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The Connection Between Trauma and Anxiety

Have you ever found yourself in one of the following situations? 

  • When you enter a loud, crowded space, your heart starts racing, your breathing quickens, and you have to find all the possible exits;

  • When you make a mistake, you stay up all night with worry and regret and cannot sleep for days on end;

  • When your loved one leaves the house, you cannot stop thinking of the worst things that might happen to them.

If you have, you are probably aware that you experience some kind of anxiety. For many people, anxiety can exhibit itself in often paralyzing ways. What may be less obvious is that the root of many forms of anxiety can be an underlying trauma. 

What is Trauma?

Trauma is a word that is often overused these days, but it is a very real and complex struggle for people who experience it. Trauma is what happens when an experience or series of experiences disrupts your sense of safety and security, leaving you feeling deeply vulnerable and powerless. These experiences might include physical abuse, emotional neglect, natural disasters, accidents, witnessing violence, or some other profoundly damaging event. Trauma can leave a lasting imprint on you and cause years of severe internal distress. 

Good or Bad Anxiety?

Feeling anxious is not an inherently bad thing; in fact, it is our body’s way of helping us make good and quick decisions when our brains perceive danger! Anxiety only becomes problematic when our brain becomes overly sensitive to potential threats, making us have persistent feelings of apprehension, fear, and worry that are often disproportionate to the actual threat present. 

When traumatic experiences happen, our brains rewire themselves to protect us from similar traumas. In the process, we are left in a constant state of hypersensitivity and unable to differentiate between small and large threats. With anxiety, our brains often categorize daily stressors as dangerous threats, igniting a cascade of fearful responses and causing us to feel overwhelmed and out of control.

Where Do I Go From Here?

Dealing with your anxiety on a daily basis can be an exhausting and difficult burden to carry. When the underlying reason is trauma, the goal is to break the cycle of trauma and anxiety by addressing both the root trauma and the resulting anxiety. There are a number of therapeutic modalities that studies have shown to be effective in working with trauma and anxiety, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP).

Unraveling the connection between trauma and anxiety requires a comprehensive approach that acknowledges your experiences and needs. Please reach out if you want to learn more about understanding your trauma and finding a path forward where anxiety is no longer in control of your life.

Written by: Gloria Huang, AMFT

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